Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: The only plot elements in Strange Impersonation that are not utterly predictable are completely preposterous. But everything else is right in the under-appreciated Anthony Mann’s 1946 noirish tale of two formidable women locked in intellectual and romantic combat.
The film was made just after the war, and could be interpreted in light of women’s changed roles and the desire of some people to change them back. Our heroine, Nora Goodrich (Brenda Marshall, in a multi-faceted performance) is an independent, brilliant researcher. When her suitor, Dr. Steven Lindstrom (William Gargan) tries to kiss her in the lab she withholds her lips and admonishes “Please dear, science.” Her able assistant, Arline Cole (Hillary Brooke, in her best film role other perhaps than Woman in Green), is a different sort of woman. Arline can’t understand how Nora is putting her career ahead of marrying Dr. Lindstrom. During a dangerous experiment, Arline proves to be the ultimate frenemy; disfigurement, murder, plastic surgery, stolen identity and romantic double dealing ensue.
Lindstrom’s character is actually too dull for these powerhouse women to be fighting over, so forget him and enjoy the sparks between the female leads. Hillary Brooke was a much better actress than her appearances on the Abbott and Costello show let her demonstrate, and her malicious charm is in full flower here. The film’s budget looks to have been about 50 cents, but Mann makes the most of it by setting up some intriguing camera shots and keeping the pacing brisk. Props to the UCLA Film Restoration team for their work on the now sharp-looking print of this old movie.
A great film? No. A good film that is worth 68 minutes of your time? Absolutely yes.